Rhode Signs | Knowledge & Wisdom

Taking the measure of the nation’s smallest state.

By Yankee Magazine

May 29 2019


The Claiborne Pell Bridge, often referred to as the Newport Bridge. It connects the city of Newport, and the Town of Jamestown.

Photo Credit : Omissivart/Pixabay
Sunset over the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge in Rhode Island.
Photo Credit : Omissivart/Pixabay

In 1983 TheWall Street Journal described Rhode Island as “a smudge beside the fast lane to Cape Cod.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration: Rhode Island, with its 39 cities and towns, is more than just a scenic overlook on Interstate 95.

But it’s small enough that journalists all over the country have often seized on it as a unit of measurement. The BP spill in 2010, according to some reports, left on the sea floor “an oily ‘bathtub ring’ the size of Rhode Island.” National Geographic and Reuters described Yosemite and Big Bend National Park, respectively, as being roughly as big as the Ocean State. And the National Training Center, where test pilots flew the first supersonic airplanes, was described by The Washington Post as “a chunk of the Mojave Desert as big as Rhode Island.”

  • All of which got us thinking: Just exactly how big is Rhode Island?
  • Its total area is 1,214 square miles: one-quarter the size of Connecticut or a seventh of Massachusetts.
  • If squished into a ribbonlike shape, Rhode Island would fit quite nicely into the Grand Canyon.
  • The state’s land area is 1,054 square miles, which is smaller than 16 national parks, two national recreation areas, and any of the Great Lakes.
  • The 1,049-mile Iditarod sled dog race is equal to a dozen laps around the Ocean State.
  • The Sahara Desert would hold 2,883 Rhode Islands.

That said, not everything is bigger than Rhode Island. Entire countries—at least 25 at last count—are smaller. Perhaps we should start describing Rhode Island as “equal to almost five Tongas.”

—Adapted from “Just How Big Is Rhode Island, Anyway?” by Jamie Kageleiry, June 1990